A anti-epilepsy drug, which causes health problems for babies when taken by pregnant women, is still being given to patients without safety warnings, it was reported.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for an “immediate fix” concerning sodium valproate, which has been linked to physical malformations, autism and developmental delay in many children when taken by their mothers during pregnancy.
In 2013, the EU’s European Medicines Agency recommended restrictions to the prescribing of the drug, also used to treat bipolar disorder and severe migraine. But many medics were unaware of the advice, continuing to offer the drug.
A review published in 2020 estimated 20,000 Britons had been exposed to the drug as developing babies. Latest figures show 222 pregnant women were given sodium valproate in 2018-21, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. It also said rates of exposure had been declining since the pregnancy prevention programme was introduced, and rates in 2020-21 were “substantially lower”.
An NHS England spokesperson said it had set up an expert group to help cut the use of the drug in women who can get pregnant by 50% next year.
The Sunday Times reported Hunt as saying: “It beggars belief that after so many warnings this still hasn’t been sorted. This is a major risk to patient safety and ministers must order an immediate fix to prevent any more avoidable harm.”
The newspaper said the drug is still being given with no patient safety information leaflet inside.
The Department of Health said: “Patient safety is a priority and we take all reports on this matter extremely seriously.”